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Get out and go wild
4:47pm Thursday 5th April 2012 in Country matters
Out for a walk with my two-year-old on the first really warm day of the year, I’d planned to explore a local wood. But we ended up only yards from my front door on a patch of gravel. Bright red ladybirds were just out of hibernation enjoying the spring sunshine, and hundreds of tiny spiders skittered across the warm stones. My daughter was fascinated.
Glorious mud Most children have mountains of plastic toys to play with, so how important is it for them to spot mini-beasts, play with sticks and get muddy? Ask any adult for their favourite childhood memory and they’ll probably tell you about playing in woods, or messing about with water and mud. But what will our children remember 40 years from now?
Modern life is so busy that it’s easy to forget to explore the free play areas just outside our front doors. Children are no longer allowed ‘out to play’ in the way we were. Growing fears about safety are hard to argue against; but if we prevent children from touching leaves and twigs, making mud pies and picking up worms, will they ever connect with or care about nature?
Toddlers will be toddlers, and whether they’re covered in biscuit or grass stains the only sure thing is that they are likely to be grubby. Being outside probably helps to develop a healthy immune system too.
Toddlers of today are the future guardians of wildlife, rivers, wildflower meadows and even oceans, not just here in Oxfordshire but across the world.
We need our children to take an interest in and feel responsibility for the natural world. But the only way to be sure that they care, is to let them experience it.
Ultimately, it’s vitally important for children to spend time outdoors. You don’t need fancy equipment and you absolutely don’t need to be an expert.
Toddlers won’t be asking you to identify lesser-spotted whatnots or tell one beetle from another. Collecting sticks or leaves and noticing snail shells is the name of the game.
Nature tots The Berks Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust believes that outdoor experiences for children can’t start early enough.
At our Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre near Didcot we run Nature Tots — an outdoor toddler group. Sessions involve mud painting, digging, making ‘potions’ and encouraging families to spend time together playing outside in whatever way they choose.
Outdoor play is easy, and you don’t have to go far or spend money. Most of us have a bit of grass or patch of gravel within walking distance of home, and spring is a great time of year to start.
Take an old spoon to find worms and beetles in the soil, and a bag for collecting interesting stones or leaves. Making time to be outside together is as important as reading stories or eating vegetables, and is likely to lead to happier, healthier children. But the best thing is — nature is something they will never grow out of.
For details of Nature Tots and Family Fun events with Flowery Fairies and Woodland Trolls at Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre go to www.bbowt.org.uk/whats-on or call 01235 862024.